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November 12, 2011 10:55 AM Romney stumbles badly on veterans’ care

By Steve Benen

Ordinarily, presidential candidates wouldn’t pick Veterans’ Day to annoy veterans. Mitt Romney must have missed the memo.

At an event in South Carolina, the former Massachusetts governor, who has no background in the military, suggested he’d like to “introduce some private sector competition” into veterans’ health care, at least partially privatizing the existing system. Given the excellence of the care our veterans receive, it seemed like a bizarre thing to say. Indeed, the VFW was not at all pleased.

When reporters asked the Romney campaign to explain, his spokesperson said the Republican candidate is “only interested in providing veterans with the world-class care they deserve and reversing the defense cuts and failed policies of the Obama administration.”

None of that statement makes any sense.

Paul Krugman took on the most glaring policy problem with Romney’s approach.

First, you know what voucherization would mean in practice: the vouchers would be inadequate, and become more so over time, so that veterans who don’t make enough money to top them up would fail to receive essential care. Patriotism!

Second, the VA is one of the great policy success stories of the past two decades…. So naturally Romney wants to privatize it. Because let’s remember, he’s the serious Republican.

Actually, this is quite consistent with the rest of his health care ideas. Basically, he wants to replace Medicare with Romneycare/Obamacare; this despite the fact that the only reason Romneycare/Obamacare runs through private insurers, rather than being straight single-payers, is as a political compromise. Medicare has lots of problems, but it’s more cost-effective than private insurance — as demonstrated by the utter failure of Medicare Advantage to save, as opposed to costing, money.

So, our serious Republican is committed on ideological grounds to demolishing successful programs and replacing them with conservative fantasies that have failed repeatedly in the past.

But there’s one other thing that’s worth mentioning. The campaign’s statement said Romney is committed to “reversing the defense cuts … of the Obama administration.”

I realize Romney can be a little slow when it comes to understanding the nuances of current events, so let’s make this easy to understand: Obama has increased defense spending, and an increase is the opposite of a cut.

Maybe Romney would understand this better if we put in visual form. Here are the Pentagon budgets over the last six years, with the red columns showing defense spending under Bush, and the blue columns showing defense spending under Obama.

If Romney seriously believes this shows a decrease in defense spending, he should forget about the White House and go back to elementary school.

Romney clearly wants to be taken seriously on these issues, which suggests he should probably take the time to brush up on the details. The guy’s been running for president non-stop for nearly six years, and the fact that he’s still confused about the basics isn’t encouraging.

This isn’t as funny as Rick Perry’s “brain freeze,” but it’s arguably much more important.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • DavidNOE on November 12, 2011 11:08 AM:

    Steve, Steve - Romney isn't confused, and you know that perfectly well. He's LYING! Just like most other Republican pols do most of the time. Why don't you just come out and say it?leverys

  • mellowjohn on November 12, 2011 11:11 AM:

    multiple choice mitt is going to have to be a lot more ignorant and/or confused if he's going to catch on with the base.

  • c u n d gulag on November 12, 2011 11:11 AM:

    Well, there have been a lot of examples of privatizing the military.

    Some of which soldiers like - like we've 'privatized' KP duty. It's no longer "privates," making a little more than miminum wage, who used to peel potato's and work in the kitchens as punishment.
    No longer!
    Now we pay some corporation $50 and hour to have some foreign schmuck peel potato's for far less than minimum wage and no benefits! And here in this country, we pay the companies the same amount for some desperate person to peel potato's for exactly minimum wage- and no benefits!

    Every current and future veteran needs to know what Mittens just proposed on, of all days, Veterans/Armistice Day - a full-on assault on the most effective and cost efficient medical system in this country!

    I truly hate Conservatives.
    Privatizing everything is hardly a solution. Privatizing everything has long been a huge part of the problem.

    And it's not just because of privatization that I hate Conservatives.

    It's that these wastes of human consciousness, ectoplasm, and oxygen, take away resources from more deserving human beings.
    Real human beings.

    Not enough bad shit can happen to people like this!
    And not enough ever will...

  • beb on November 12, 2011 11:15 AM:

    Romney's comments veterans health care seems based on the situation 20-30 years ago when it was not-so-good. And his comments about reversing the defense cuts of [name of current Democrat president here] likewise sound like something Reagan may have said while running for office 30 years ago. Maybe the problem with Romney isn't that he's lying or that he's stupid but that he's using the Reagan playbook...

  • Texas Aggie on November 12, 2011 11:19 AM:

    Steve suggests that Mitt's problem is that he doesn't know the difference between a cut and an increase. I think the problem is that the people Mitt is talking to don't know that Obama has increased defense spending and Mitt knows it. Just like these same people still think that WMD were found in Iraq and that Hussein was involved in 9/11, they know in their hearts that Obama has reduced funding to the military and nothing you can do or show them will shake their belief. Mitt is counting on their stupidity.

  • lou on November 12, 2011 11:32 AM:

    From yesterday's doghouseriley's blog (Bat's Left /Throw's Right):

    "Please explain to me what reason anyone ever had to believe that Rick Perry was a thoughtful politician espousing what are largely his own ideas. If you can, please move on to Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Mitt Romney; save Gingrich for last, because that involves the biggest sucker list since Charles Ponzi drew breath. Perhaps, for extra credit, you can explain why every goddam Republican Presidential candidate for the last thirty-five years has sounded like this. It's a fucking party of panderers. If it's a sin to sound like you tried and failed to memorize something, how big an accomplishment is it to have successfully memorized something that is entirely designed to please the ignorant?

    Th' fuck?"

  • DAY on November 12, 2011 11:47 AM:

    What is astonishing is the level of ignorance and incompetence of their advisors. I guess they have to be cleared by the Heritage Foundation and or Fox News, before getting the job.

  • Anonymous on November 12, 2011 11:51 AM:

    Mitt Romney seems to be one of the most clueless competitors for the job he's applying for. If you're unable to secure sage advice at this stage, you, by definition, are not worthy to compete.

  • dannyshenanigan on November 12, 2011 11:52 AM:

    Clearly, this post can't be right because David Brooks said last night that Mitt Romney hasn't made any mistakes. That's it isn't it? He's good to go.

  • zandru on November 12, 2011 12:13 PM:

    Try to Find a Medical Insurance Policy...

    ...that covers "combat injuries." Or conditions that may, by some stretch of an overly-creative claims adjuster's imagination, just possibly BE RELATED TO a "combat injury."

    Take a look at your monthly premium and then try to imagine what it would look like if it DID cover combat injuries...

  • Anonymous on November 12, 2011 12:14 PM:

    It is not ignorance, incompetence or cluelessness. DavidNOE has it right: It is plain lying. Crossroads GPS ads are the model. Tell the lie and hardly anyone dares to point out the truth. Then the lie becomes common knowledge. It will be left to the fact checkers at the 2012 debates to establish truth, and even then it won't be reported at any Murdoch outlet.

  • jb on November 12, 2011 12:29 PM:

    When will Democrats learn how to use the media? Republicans have learned that they can say anything, literally anything, that fits within their ideology without regard to the facts. Obama has raised taxes! Obama has cut defense spending! No one calls them on this beyond the lefty blogs.

    I don't have the answer -- just a plea for media professionals to develop a clear voice for Democrats.

  • windshouter on November 12, 2011 1:22 PM:

    I think the parenthetical "who knows" at the end of Mr Romney's quote is telling. Who knows, it's just something to say. Who knows, it might work, but if it doesn't, it's no skin off my nose.

  • CDW on November 12, 2011 1:33 PM:

    Romney is lying, but who's going to call him on it except liberal bloggers? The goper peeps will believe anything he tells and they won't believe liberal bloggers even if they read them.

  • jjm on November 12, 2011 1:34 PM:

    Anyone ever wonder if Romney is just plain STUPID?

    If he's not, then he is the worst kind of vicious and sadistic monster.

    A guy who says what he did on Veterans' Day would normally be thought of as an aggressive, in-your-face dyed-in-the wool sadistic conservative, basically telling soldiers: "Eat that!!"

    Just because he says all this in a mild-mannnered way, claiming moral/fiscal high ground, makes it no less aggressive, even violent, towards other human beings than if he had pronounced it all Jimmy Cagney gangster style.

    He's more dangerous than any of them because he is so smarmy.

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on November 12, 2011 1:52 PM:

    When reporters asked the Romney campaign to explain, his spokesperson said the Republican candidate is �only interested in providing veterans with the world-class care they deserve and reversing the defense cuts and failed policies of the Obama administration.�

    And what "failed policies" in particular is Romney talking about? Iraq and Afghanistan were part of the collossal shit sandwich left on Obama's desk by you-know-who. While I can't say I agree with everything this administration has done vis-a-vis those two wars I'm also glad that I don't have to make the decisions about how to handle them. In both cases the choices are between bad and worse and on balance Obama has done pretty well, given circumstances.

    And can I mention that both Osama bin-Laden and Muammar Khaddafy have been voted off the planet without the loss of a single American life? Imaging the last crew (or any of the republicans vying to be the next crew) carrying that off.

  • beejeez on November 12, 2011 4:08 PM:

    How about this for a Democratic Party statement:

    "Here's what I propose for VA benefits for American soldiers: Any soldiers eligible for combat duty get whatever damn doctors and health-restoring drugs they want when they want it free for the rest of their lives. Same for their families. They get to cut in line ahead of you at the drug store. Your doctor has to make house calls to them and bring a six-pack when he does. Does that sound about right?"

    Landslide win.

  • just bill on November 12, 2011 4:13 PM:

    some days like today (it's nice and sunny up here in my part of the northeast today) i like to imagine what it might be like if obama got into his first debate with mittens, and just started out by saying, you know governor, you're flat out lying. here are the facts.

    welcome to my fantasy world ;)

  • tamiasmin on November 12, 2011 4:28 PM:

    @ c u n d gulag: Privates making a little more than minimum wage? Good times!

    When I was in the Army, a private (E-1) made $78/month. Since we were theoretically on duty at all times, that was 78/720 = $0.11/hour, or if you consider it more realistically to be 22 eight-hour duty days, 78/176 = $0.44/hour. Minimum wage then was $1.01/hour.

    But we did get benefits. They were called guard duty.

    I wonder if part of the increase in defense spending under Obama came from simply putting our two wars on budget, or are those amounts included for all years in the chart?

    By the way, Romney's statement makes sense if you view an increase as a negative cut. Then when he says he wants to reverse it, he's advocating a spending reduction, which would be unexceptionable Republican orthodoxy if he wasn't talking about the Defense Department. Maybe something is rubbing off from that guy he stands next to at the debates, and he really meant the Department of Education. As he says, who knows?

  • berttheclock on November 12, 2011 5:20 PM:

    Yes, tamiasmin, but, they didn't charge you for S#%$ on a Shingle, did they?

    Peeling potatoes - What would that character played by Lou Costello do in the modern army?

    Ah, yes, guard duty at 2AM on a very cold winter's night in West Germany guarding an ammo dump at an artillery kaserne. You knew when your relief was due because your feet were beginning to freeze in those ridculous "Mickey Mouse" boots. The same type Chesty P wouldn't let the US Marines use. Geez, them were the days my friends.............

  • j on November 12, 2011 5:30 PM:

    Let us not forget tha Mittens got 3 deferments from serving in Viet Nam, two were for his education and 1 2 year deferment was for him to run awat to France and recruit people to the Mormon faith. The French were not amused. This also covers Mittens foreign policy experience as you cannot count his shell companies in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, they are just for avoiding US taxes.

  • Richard on November 12, 2011 5:47 PM:

    Mitt's plan would amount to a death sentence to many vets.

    What private insurance company is going to offer coverage to a wounded vet at any price? The vouchers under those circumstances would be worthless.

    Hell, I would imagine that being a vet in itself would be looked upon as essentially a "pre-existing condition". At a minimum, I'd expect even healthy vets would get charged a jacked up rate.

  • MNRD on November 12, 2011 7:48 PM:

    I think Mitt's biggest problem with his base is that he is an extreme violator of its highest principle: loyalty to tribe. Mitt used to belong to an enemy tribe. The right-wing tribe is happy enough that Romney left that enemy tribe and joined their tribe. However, the right-wing tribe is sickened by the fact that Romney made promises to that enemy tribe and eventually broke those promises so thoroughly.

    The most glaring example is on the issue of abortion. Mitt at one time promised the pro-choice tribe that he would act as a kind of stealth protector of their interests within the Republican Party. He wound up supporting a personhood amendment that was so extreme it even failed to pass in Mississippi! In addition to outlawing abortion even in cases of rape and incest and possibly even when the women's very life was at risk, it may very well have outlawed many forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization!! It is hard to imagine a more extreme betrayal of tribe than the way Romney betrayed the pro-choice tribe by supporting the personhood amendment. And it's awfully easy for the right-wing tribe to imagine Romney turning around and betraying them the same way, especially when Romney continues to flip-flop-flip on matters like Ohio Issue 2.

  • LL on November 13, 2011 12:30 AM:

    Uh, Steve. Mitt is just lying. That's all. He's not confused. He's lying. He lies all the time, about everything. Why? Mostly because there is no consequence to lying; to lying over and over and over again.

    Our conventional media simply refuse to write the plain words "Mitt Romney lied yet again during last night's debate." But that's what he's doing. I don't think he's confused at all. He's just telling lies, because he thinks that'll work for him. That's all.

  • berttheclock on November 13, 2011 7:50 AM:

    I believe in his past life, Mitt ran the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the Grant administration.

  • yellowdog on November 13, 2011 4:57 PM:

    @zandru on November 12, 2011 12:13 PM:
    @Richard on November 12, 2011 5:47 PM:

    Excellent points. They get down to the core of the matter: Mitt's voucher plan spells death, disease, and poverty for veterans. Simple as that. What private insurer is going to cover veterans?

    Want to know how far the Republican Party has fallen? Consider these words of Lincoln, from which the motto of the VA is taken:
    "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

    Treating veterans well is part of establishing peace and restoration.

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